|Thomson Corp. purchased Dialog from its British owners on May 4,
2000, and in November named a seasoned Thomson executive as Dialog’s new
president and CEO. Now that Roy M. Martin Jr. has had 6 months at the helm,
I talked with him about the organization’s recently announced 2001 strategies,
as well as his long-range plans for the company and its place within Thomson.
Q Before being named CEO of Dialog last November,
you held several key positions at Thomson with the West Group and Thomson
Legal Publishing. Tell our readers a bit about what you worked on and how
you see those previous experiences helping to prepare you for the tasks
you face at Dialog.
A I’ve been with Thomson for over 8 years and before
that I had about 15 years’ experience in the computer systems and software
industry. At Thomson, my last position was executive vice president and
chief strategy officer of Thomson Legal & Regulatory, where I spent
a lot of time on business development, acquisitions, and helping to put
together our international strategy. I traveled frequently and worked with
a number of publishers and companies around the world. Before that I was
in charge of strategic marketing for West Online, responsible for content,
marketing, pricing, product bundling, and product development. Both of
those positions proved to be very relevant for what we are doing at Dialog.
Dialog is a worldwide business with offices in 30 countries and we do business
in 100. A lot of the opportunities for Dialog are in the areas of content,
pricing, marketing, branding, distribution channels, and so forth. So,
a lot of what I’ve done for Thomson seems to be a direct fit with what
the opportunities are at Dialog.
Q You’ve now had about 6 months at the helm of
Dialog—learning the people and the company and working on strategies. What
do you think are the top challenges that Dialog faces today?
A I think that to understand the challenges you
have to look at the assets and the things you’re good at. From Dialog’s
standpoint, our brands have great equity in markets around the world. Our
content assets are both broad and deep. The technology-based search tools
we have across all three of our product lines—Dialog, DataStar, and Profound—are
among the best in the industry. System performance for us—the sheer speed
of searches and the way our systems operate—is also top-notch. Those things
are real strengths for Dialog.
Certainly the opportunities for us revolve around getting pricing right
on our products, and getting our product bundling and packaging correct,
both in the sales and marketing areas. From the sales perspective, we have
over 200 people around the world calling on customers every day. We have
customer service and product support in three major locations around the
world. We could probably coordinate those a bit better than we do, in order
to maximize the assets that I mentioned. I think most of our customers
would agree with us on these opportunities.
Q I notice you call them "opportunities" rather
A Some people might think that’s just a play on
words, but for Dialog I think it’s the correct way to look at them.
Q Your recent series of announcements indicated
very clearly that you would continue the company’s traditional focus on
the information professional—it still seems to be your bread and butter.
But haven’t overall subscriptions been going down? Isn’t this an area under
A On the first point, we thought it was important
to make a clear statement to the market and our customers about our focus.
Over the last few years, there may have been some mixed messages from Dialog
about the things we valued and the customers that were important to us.
At the core of our efforts for almost 3 decades have been the librarian
and the information professional researcher. Our product revenues today
are largely derived from that market and our marketing and sales opportunities
are focused in that market. Part of the focus of the press releases was
to make sure the market understood where we were heading and what things
were important to us.
If you look at overall subscriptions, Dialog has suffered some decline
in the last few years. Some part of that was the result of the $75 per
month minimum fee that was instituted by Dialog a while back. It tended
to have the effect of causing smaller subscribers, who weren’t spending
to that level, to look elsewhere for services. Within our core market,
particularly the large companies that use our products and services, overall
our subscriptions have been pretty steady. We hope to turn this into a
growth area over the next few years.
Q Besides providing this clarification of focus,
your recent announcements lookedto be rather status quo. By that I mean
no big shake-ups. You still maintain three separate services: Dialog, DataStar,
and Profound, each with several iterations. Since you also rolled out new
graphical marks for the products it looks like they will continue with
no major changes.
A There really are three themes for us as we move
forward: investment, growth, and customers. A key area for investment for
Dialog and Thomson is in the infrastructure of Dialog—part of it is simply
business systems, billings systems, [and] customer service infrastructure.
But the larger part is the technology infrastructure itself, which we will
be investing heavily into over the next 3 years. We hope this will have
a direct and positive impact on our products. But I think those changes
will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We are looking to continually
improve the products we have.
In the Dialog line, we’ll be expanding from our base. We now have six
products in that line, from Dialog Classic to the newly announced Dialog1.
We also have the whole suite of intranet tools. In the Profound line, we’ve
just completed a pretty significant overhaul of the product line, which
affects performance and our ability to add new content to it. We will continue
on that as well as potentially extend the Profound brand. We’re continuing
to evolve the DataStar line as well.
Q At one time there was talk about merging Dialog
and DataStar. Apparently it wasn’t feasible then. Is this a possibility?
A It’s definitely a possibility. We’re evaluating
the treatment of the brands and the overlap of content. We’re also looking
at the way we manage the data internally—both acquiring the content and
tagging it—and the way we handle it in our data center. Certainly Dialog
and DataStar are a lot more similar than dissimilar. I think Profound serves
a bit different market and has a different equity with its brand, in who
it appeals to. We’re looking into it and I hope later this year we can
make firmer statements about the direction we’re heading.
Q I had heard that a lot of the unique content
on Profound was going to be added to the main Dialog service. So then the
reasons to continue Profound would be its branding and special markets?
A Profound actually has other unique features,
besides those two, which are quite important. The InfoSort technology that
we use as the underpinning for Profound lets people do some unique things
when they are looking for content. For instance, on Profound, instead of
buying an entire report, which in some cases can cost thousands of dollars,
our customers can target smaller chunks of a report for more economical
Q And that’s not doable on Dialog?
A Not in the way that you can on Profound, not
today. Some of the content is on both Profound and Dialog. For example,
we have an exclusive distribution agreement with Frost and Sullivan, and
we market their reports on both. The bigger focus we have now is on aggressively
adding to our market-research content. Over the next few months we hope
to have a series of announcements about additional content on Profound,
some of which may be available on Dialog as well.
Q I understand that a user of Dialog can’t use
his password for billing in DataStar—that there’s an accounting limitation
A We’re keenly aware of the password issue. You
actually need separate passwords for all three of our products. Going back
to my opportunities list, one of our opportunities is to help customers
who have two or three of our products to handle that differently, as well
as handle the billing differently. Now a customer gets three bills. Our
larger customers have asked us to make changes in these areas, and we’re
really looking at that pretty hard. We hope to have some announcements
about that later this year.
Q As someone with a software and technicalbackground,
is it feasible to consider building common technical platforms for the
services? What kind of re-engineering would be required to link the platforms,
have them be compatible, and share information?
A Yes, absolutely, it is feasible to consider.
If you look back over the last few years, when MAID purchased KRI, one
of the themes for MAID at the time was combining the platforms and product
lines. From an operations and technology standpoint, that’s easier said
than done. And that’s not unique to the Dialog product lines. I think there
are a number of options in this area. You could combine two of the products
into a third, you could separate the products, you could maintain their
individuality, or you could take all three and move them to another platform.
We’re evaluating all of the options. I think you’ll see us invest heavily
in technology as we select our strategic options.
Q I guess the question is, do you save through
combining, or is it so costly that it’s better to maintain separate products?
A That’s an important question. Certainly an end
result in all of this should be some cost savings for us. But the focus
is not cost reduction, per se; the focus first and foremost is serving
our customers and growing the business. A side benefit will certainly be
enhanced profitability for the business.
Q The big question in everyone’s mind when Thomson
purchased Dialog ... was how it would take advantage of potential synergies
within the Thomson organization and integrate various products and services.
One of these is obviously the connection with West. West users have had
access to Dialog content for some time. Do you plan to make West’s legal
content available to Dialog users in the near future?
A The broader question really involves the Thomson
plans and strategies regarding Dialog. As all of our customers know, Dialog
already has a fair amount ofThomson content, which was one of the reasons
that Thomson was interested in Dialog. There’s also a fair amount of Thomson
content that’s not on Dialog—whether it’s West, or content from Thomson
Financial, or another unit. Again, it’s an evolutionary process. Over time
we will continue to enhance Dialog by adding content that’s strategic for
the markets we are in. We will increasingly leverage Thomson’s assets.
At the same time, Dialog is a distributor for a lot of other content.
We have contracts with information providers all around the world. It’s
important for Dialog to maintain its independence and be a fair distribution
channel, not only for Thomson, but also for the other providers with whom
we have partnerships. So, there’s a balance we’ll want to maintain, particularly
in markets that are strategic for us.
Q What I’ve been hearing from searchers is they
want more full-text resources. Historically, Dialog has been heavy on abstracting-and-indexing
databases, so people are really looking for you to add full text. Where
that can come easily from other Thomson units, you could do it quickly.
A I think that’s true. Customers have talked to
me about that. They want more links to primary information, which we have
developed in a number of our products and will continue to work on. We’ll
continue to focus on adding full text. In addition, we’ll focus on greatly
enhancing our content in some of the regional areas that we have operations
in, such as the Asia-Pacific region, and in some of the European countries,
and even in countries in North America, such as Canada, where we don’t
have as much content as we’d like.
Q What about doing more with Web linkages—adding
URLs to files? Dialog seems to lag a bit behind some of the other services
in being "Webified." What plans might you have for that?
A Well, I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job of
being "intranet-ified." A lot of our customers, particularly the large
ones, have been very interested in having us create leading-edge ways to
leverage their intranets. We’ve done that with a number of products that
cut across all three of our lines. When it comes to leveraging Web development
tools and being integrated into a Web environment, I think we’ve done a
pretty good job.
There are a number of issues when it comes to Web linking. The first
is your own technology and how you cause the links to occur. The second
issue is the relationship you have with the content provider, and how the
link is going to be driven. Another issue is how you get there. In order
to link to a specific journal our system has to be able to search against
that journal and locate the journal in someone else’s file structure. With
DataStar we’ve done a pretty good job in this area. With Dialog we have
some improvements that we’ll be announcing probably in the third or fourth
quarter of this year. We’re working to do it in such a way that we have
strong relationships with the information providers, rather than just directing
a link to a Web site.
Q You mentioned pricing earlier, and the $75 fee
that turned off some smaller customers. But, pricing was very obviously
lacking in your recent announcements. Tell us what is happening in this
area, especially with the issue of DialUnits.
A I’ve talked to hundreds of customers since I’ve
been at Dialog, and some customers bring up pricing as the first thing,
while others never bring it up.And, the question I’m asked in almost every
interview is "What are you going to do about pricing?"
Q Well, Dialog pricing is a contentious and sore
point with a lot of folks.
A I’ve spent more of my time on pricing since I’ve
been at Dialog than I have on any other topic. In an online environment,
there aren’t many things that you control that define not only your brand
but your product and how you deliver it to customers, and pricing is one
of those. It’s a topic that’s important to us and also one that’s highly
Our first focus is in modifying and evolvingour current pricing structure.
That includes not only the way we sell and market and price our products,
but also the structures of that pricing, which include DialUnits, Types,
Alerts, and others. We will be making some announcements later this quarter
on pricing in general as well as the DialUnits issue. I will point out
that DialUnits on average represent about 25 percent of a customer’s total
bill. Customers actually pay us more for Types, Alerts, and other components
than they do for DialUnits. That doesn’t diminish its importance, but it
was an interesting piece of data for me to understand.
On the second broader issue of what we will do with pricing for the
future, we are looking at adding different pricing models. Certainly there
are a number of pricing models that are accepted in the industry today
that are not currently used at Dialog. You will see us adding flexibility
and simplicity. We hope to make it easier to do business with us.
Q Yes, people like choices to fit their needs.
There’s a very wide range of potential users and they need pricing options
to suit their setting.
A On the DialUnits issue, we’ve identified three
areas of concern. Actually, a fourth that I can’t do anything about washow
it was implemented, which people didn’t like. One of the big three that
people would like to see is choice. When DialUnits was launched, there
was no other choice. Lack of choice causes anyone stress.Look for further
word about this in the next[month or so], possibly at SLA [the Special
Libraries Association Annual Conference this month]. We’ll be addressing
all of these this year.
Q You’ve talked about your strategies for 2001,
laid out in this recent series of announcements. What do you see for Dialog’s
future in the next 2 to 5 years?
A Dialog has historically been an aggregator of
content. There are other competitors in this space, and the calling cards
for all of us are the breadth and depth of our content, how easily you
can find information, with what type of precision you can find it, and
what your system performance is like. Secondly, Dialog has occupied a leading
position in a number of market segments, such as pharmaceuticals, investment
banks, consulting firms, chemicals, advertising and media, and in legal
services. Strategically, we would look to enhance our position in both
those areas as we go forward.
On the first point, that means adding more content, and offering additional
ways to embed ourselves into a customer’s intranet or into their work flow.
On the later point, I think you’ll find us focusing much more clearly in
a smaller number of specific categories and working very hard to ensure
that our products, features, and services, and the content array, really
are in a leading position as we go forward. Certainly there will be a lot
more focus on market segments than you have seen from Dialog in the past.
[For more about Dialog, see the NewsBreak
on page 16.]
Paula J. Hane, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, is contributing
editor of Information Today, a former reference librarian, and a
longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@